Rated: Tame PG
Category: Culmets. Angst. Romance. Love. (Re)established Relationship.
Season: Post-two, Pre-three. (Probably? Inter-season speculation.)
Spoilers: General Series Knowledge Through The End of Season Two.
Summary: Paul Stamets is an absolute badass. Thus, Stud. He's also as soft as they come. Therefore, Muffin. (AKA, the one where Hugh has a problem and Paul knows just how to fix it.)
Paul hears the crash from the bathroom and calls out in alarm.
He's already getting up to see what's wrong when Hugh's voice stops him.
"It's nothing," Hugh growls.
Paul pauses, knowing that tone too well. It's one of the new ones, since Hugh's return. One of the ones he's had to learn to accept since Hugh finally moved back in.
It's the "something isn't working right and I'm frustrated but please don't push me" tone.
Paul knows it's best to let Hugh work through that tone on his own, even if he wants nothing more than to help.
He compromises this time.
He walks to the bathroom door and softly calls out to the man inside.
"Can I do anything?"
A quiet but wrecked sob is the only answer, and Paul abandons all pretense of restraint.
"I'm coming in, okay?"
Hugh doesn't answer. Paul takes the lack of protest as consent and keys opens the door.
He finds Hugh standing over the sink, hands on either side of it, shoulders slumped and head bowed.
He extends a hand toward Hugh while approaching slowly.
"Honey?" he calls softly, letting Hugh know he's there.
Hugh sniffs once before answering.
"I'm fine. It's stupid."
Paul shakes his head. "I doubt that. On both counts."
"Just interpreting the data," says Paul, with the tiniest smirk.
Hugh snorts again, and this time, a tiny chuckle escapes.
"Hey, I'm nothing if not predictable," says Paul, edging closer. He still avoids touching Hugh, but his focus on himself has the desired effect. Hugh looks up, meeting Paul's eyes in the mirror, and subtly shakes his head.
"You're ridiculous," he says, a small grin threatening to take over his mouth.
"That I am," says Paul. "Now, what's wrong?"
Hugh's grin fades and he huffs out a hard breath. And when he shakes his head this time, it's all self-deprecation.
"It's stupid," he repeats.
Paul finally lays a hand on Hugh's shoulder as he gives the man's reflection a dubious look. Hugh turns into Paul's touch and leans one hip on the counter.
The grin is back, but it's tinged with sadness.
"It shouldn't matter," Hugh continues. "It's not like I wore them much anyway."
Paul's brow furrows in confusion.
"What?" he asks.
Hugh reaches up and flicks his own earlobe with one finger.
It takes Paul approximately two milliseconds to put it together.
"Your ears," he mumbles.
Hugh nods sadly. "Yeah."
Paul looks around, clocking the entire room for the first time.
The counter is a mess. The overturned cup and scattered grooming supplies bear witness to Hugh's outburst.
As does the pair of diamond studs, still right next to the sink, where Hugh's hand had previously covered them.
Paul blinks a few times, then swallows hard. He's clearly upset, but it only lasts a moment. Then something seems to occur to him, and suddenly he gives Hugh a quirky half smile.
"Is that all?" he asks.
Hugh is baffled.
"What do you mean?"
"That's nothing. A quick stop by engineering and you're golden."
Hugh catches on a moment later and levels a disbelieving look at his partner.
His serious tone is ignored by the astromycologist.
"What?" Paul is jittery and practically gleeful. "I'll have you know I requisitioned a laser scalpel after the whole trepanning Tilly with a drill thing."
Paul giggles. "You probably don't want to know."
"You got that right," agrees Hugh.
"Ok. Yeah. Another time. Maybe. But I mean it. It's not a problem."
Hugh just gawks. "You're serious?"
"Yeah," says Paul with a shrug. "Why not?"
"I can think of more than a few reasons," says Hugh.
Paul turns Hugh around to fully face him. Hugh leans back on the counter as Paul places both hands on his shoulders and ducks his head to look into Hugh's downcast eyes.
"Do you or do you not want to wear earrings tonight?"
Hugh gives Paul a bashful look. It's followed by a tiny shrug.
"Well," he mumbles, "you always seemed to like them."
Paul steps back, letting his hands fall off of Hugh. He looks a little shocked.
"You were dressing up for me?"
Hugh stares back for a moment before answering.
"That surprises you?"
"A little, yeah," says Paul.
A hurt look crosses Hugh's face.
Paul shrugs, eyes on the floor. "I dunno. I guess I..."
He trails off, and Hugh gives Paul an appraising look. His eyes narrow and he presses his lips together for a moment before speaking.
"You still doubt me."
Paul looks up at that, eyes wide.
"No! I... I just..."
Hugh's glare silences Paul.
"You just what? Think you don't matter to me?"
There's anger in Hugh's voice, and Paul lets out a frustrated huff.
Then he looks away and licks his lips, like he's trying to formulate a more eloquent response, but Hugh doesn't need one.
"Well, that settles it," he says. The glare is gone, but he's no less intense.
And with that, he pushes off the counter, turns back around, and pockets the earrings. Then he pushes past Paul and leaves the room.
Paul stands there a moment, too perplexed to move, then chases after him.
"Settles what, exactly?"
Hugh pulls on a jacket as he turns back toward Paul.
"We're stopping by engineering on the way to the party."
"Engineering. Laser scalpel. My ears. Remember?"
Hugh gestures vaguely toward the side of his head when Paul doesn't respond.
"Hello? Discovery to Commander Stamets?"
"I heard you," says Paul, clearly baffled. "But.."
Hugh interrupts. "Earlier, you implied you could pierce my ears. I believe your exact words were 'it's not a problem'. So what's the problem?"
"I... you... you mean it?"
Paul is stammering. Hugh nods.
"Yeah. I do. Now come on. Let's go. We'll be late."
Paul opens his mouth as if to say something, then closes it. He stares at Hugh for a minute, then gives him an exaggerated shrug.
"Okay," he finally says. A decisive nod punctuates his words. He grabs his own jacket and heads out the door.
Hugh follows him – all the way to engineering – where Paul orders everyone out and the deed is done.
It's painless, and while the precision doesn't surprise Hugh, he's still impressed. He lets Paul put in his studs when it's done, and the shiny-eyed smile Paul gives him afterward is glorious.
They attend the party after that, and no one comments on Hugh's earrings.
But Tracy raises an eyebrow when Hugh slides up to the replicator next to hers to order a drink. She doesn't think anyone notices, but the smirk Paul sends her way as he leans over his partner to retrieve the drink says otherwise.
And the smile Paul wears for the rest of the night makes his feelings on the matter crystal clear.
As do his actions once he takes Hugh home.
A/N: Sean, you are a treasure. Thanks for the beta/letting me share this with you when I was in the giddy rush of first creation. And don't think for a moment the earring choice was coincidental.